“The future is already here,” quotes Gupshup CEO Beerud Sheth, “it just isn’t evenly distributed.”
That certainly seems to be the case with the rise of “hotel bots” or conversational messaging platforms specifically meant to address the needs of the hospitality industry.
What is a conversational messaging platform? It’s a technology that “solves the problem of engaging with customers in real time,” Sheth explains.
For instance, customers expect immediate notifications after a business interaction: Reservation number for a booked hotel room, confirmation that a credit card was charged, details on if an upgrade is available, the status of a room service order, etc. And that’s exactly what Sheth’s company does.
“Gupshup gives hotels an API and they send us the message and recipient,” Sheth notes. “Then we deliver it. We connect via SMS or WhatsApp or another messaging channel. And this allows us to reach any mobile user worldwide.”
Hotels can also use Gupshup to send out structured queries such as: “Would you like to upgrade your room: Yes or No?”
But what about when guests are initiating the conversation with the chatbot and ask general, unstructured queries such as: “What dates are available to book next week?” or “Are there any rooms available for upgrade?” This is where the conversational aspect of the technology comes into play. Artificial intelligence assesses the query, “translates” it into a structured and precise query, sends it to the hotel backend systems, receives the answer, and provides that answer to the guest: all in a few seconds and without a human needed.
According to Sheth, hospitality is a prime example of an industry that will benefit tremendously from the rise of conversational messaging. Consider this: While hotels operate 24/7, the property regularly has to deal with peaks and valleys of activity, including check-in and check-out times, the lunch and dinner rush hour, etc. Hotel managers often must choose between having enough staff on hand to handle the rushes quickly and efficiently (but are then idle for hours in-between), or having fewer staff on hand which can create long lines and impatient customers.
“Either way the hotel loses,” Sheth says. “Either it loses money or it loses customer satisfaction.”
And that’s only one type of problem. Consider the language barriers that come with international visitors or the embarrassment when a new hire fails to recognize a VIP guest and tailor their hotel stay accordingly.
“Conversational messaging platforms can solve all of those problems in one fell swoop,” Sheth explains. “It’s always on, in can work in any language, it can handle millions of queries at a time so there is never a ‘line,’ and it can be extensively personalized.”
In China, WeChat – a “super app” – is the most popular messaging app. Why? It allows users to do everything within the app from booking a hotel room, to buying an article of clothing, to paying for takeout. WhatsApp is hot on the heels of WeChat, and it will soon offer all of these same capabilities to its user base as well.
Hotels and other hospitality businesses may hesitate to get on board with hotel bots but consider this: “This technology is pervasive and commonplace enough that it could be available everywhere within a year,” Sheth says. “The infrastructure and the ecosystem are already here.”
Consider the rise of websites in the 90s, Sheth explains. At first, many businesses wondered if they would really need one. “I already have a listed phone number,” they would rationalize. “Customers can find me that way.” But in the blink of an eye, that all changed. Now, the only way customers find new businesses is via their website.
“This is a new era,” Sheth says. “Messaging apps and conversational chatbots are the new digital front door. This is how customers are looking to find and interact with your business. If you aren’t available here, you will miss out.”
But I already have a website, hoteliers might say. What can a messaging app do that my website can’t?
Consider this: websites were a great solution for laptop and desktop users. But we are no longer a community that relies on large screens. We are a world of smartphone users with small screens that require short and quick messaging solutions.
“It’s time to update our format,” Sheth notes.
“But I created an app a few years ago, it works really well!” a hotelier might say.
“Does it really?” Sheth would ask you. “People don’t want to commit to downloading apps on their mobile devices. It’s too much of a commitment. But they do still want to be able to talk to the hotel, restaurant, taxi cab service, etc. at the time they need to use that business. A messaging platform that allows the customer to speak with the hotel, book their room, order room service, as well as check-in and out fulfills both their needs and desires. And the technology is already here.”